LeBron James is finished with the Miami Heat. He’s also finished with the No. 6 he has worn during the past four NBA Finals and to celebrate his only two NBA championships.
James has elected to return this coming season to the No. 23 he wore during his initial tenure with the Cleveland Cavaliers. James made the announcement Sunday on Twitter, when he posted:
“23 it is! It’s only right I go back. 2 (times) 3 = 6. We still family 6.”
He also posted an Instagram collage of his career in No. 23, including a picture of his uniform in high school at St. Vincent-St. Mary.
Most NBA teams have set aside No. 23 in honor of Michael Jordan, with the Heat having gone as far as to place Jordan’s No. 23 jersey in the rafters at AmericanAirlines Arena. The last Heat player to have worn No. 23 was Cedric Ceballos in 2001. Jordan’s No. 23 was formally retired by the Heat on April 11, 2003, at the request of Heat President Pat Riley.
Even before James switched to No. 6 with the Heat in 2010, while still wearing No. 23 during his initial stint with the Cavaliers, James said, “I just think what Michael Jordan has done for the game has to be recognized some way soon. There would be no LeBron James, no Kobe Bryant, no Dwyane Wade if there wasn’t Michael Jordan first.”
James now will get to wear Jordan’s No. 23 against the Jordan-owned Charlotte Hornets.
In fact, in Nov. 2009, after playing against the Heat at AmericanAirlines Arena in a game when Jordan happened to be in the stands, James said, “I feel like no NBA player should wear 23. I’m starting a petition, and I’ve got to get everyone in the NBA to sign it. Now, if I’m not going to wear No. 23, then nobody else should be able to wear it.”
Major League Baseball has retired the No. 42 in honor of Jackie Robinson, with the National Hockey League doing the same with Wayne Gretzky’s No. 99.
Players who decide to switch numbers generally have to inform the NBA before the completion of the prior season, but there is no such rule for players who switch teams. James claimed the No. 6 of Mario Chalmers when he joined the Heat, with Chalmers then switching to the No. 15 he wore while at Kansas, his preferred initial number with the Heat. No. 15 was worn by center Mark Blount when Chalmers joined the Heat in 2008.
Of previously switching to No. 6, James had explained to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, “My second-favorite player was Julius Erving, and he wore No. 6. I wore 32 [also] in high school because Dr. J wore it at first. My first child was born on Oct. 6, it’s my Olympic number, my second child was born in June.”
Some took James’ decision to switch to No. 6 in deference to Jordan as a snub to the championship lineage of Bill Russell, who wore No. 6 with the Boston Celtics.
James wore No. 23 for his first seven NBA seasons with the Cavaliers, before turning to No. 6, his Olympic championship number when he signed with the Heat as a free agent in July 2010.
Among NBA players who currently wear No. 23 are New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis, San Antonio Spurs forward Austin Daye, Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green, New York Knicks guard Toure Murry, Portland Trail Blazers guard Allen Crabbe, Minnesota Timberwolves guard Kevin Martin and Philadelphia 76ers guard Jason Richardson. Heat free-agent guard Toney Douglas wore No. 23 while with the Knicks.
Among previous NBA stars other than Jordan to wear No. 23 were Sacramento Kings guard Mitch Richmond, Denver Nuggets forward Alex English, Atlanta Hawks guard Lou Hudson, Houston Rockets guard Calvin Murphy and Boston Celtics guard Frank Ramsey.